Restaurant Week satisfies hungry Chicagoans

By Kaley Fowler

With more than 6,000 restaurants in the city, finding somewhere to eat isn’t terribly difficult. Deciding on a restaurant, however, can be more problematic. That’s where Chicago Restaurant Week comes in.

Chicago will hold its fifth annual Restaurant Week, a 10-day showcase of more than 230 restaurants throughout the city and suburbs, from Feb. 17–26. Eateries will offer special prix fixe menus priced at $22 for lunch and either $33 or $44 for dinner.

Inspired by the success of restaurant weeks in other major cities, the Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau decided to launch the initiative in 2008.

“About five years ago, our leadership decided that it was appropriate for Chicago to have its own Restaurant Week given the caliber of restaurants we have here,” said Harvey Morris, the bureau’s director of digital and social marketing. “One of the reasons why we love Chicago Restaurant Week is [because] we’re really proud of the great restaurants that Chicago has.”

According to Morris, in 2011, 207 restaurants served approximately 377,000 diners over the week, generating more than $19 million in revenue. He said this year’s figures are expected to increase because of more restaurants participating.

“Because there are a lot of restaurants offering special menus and prices are the same across the board, consumers get a lot of choices,” said Andrew Nyitray, general manager of Catch 35, a seafood restaurant at 35 W. Wacker Drive. “They know exactly how much it’s going to cost and they can make an informed decision about maybe trying a restaurant they haven’t tried before.”

Nyitray said Catch 35 participates every year because of the exposure the week brings to his restaurant, a sentiment shared by several restaurateurs.

Keith Zust, manager of Zapatista Cuisines of Mexico, 444 W. Fullerton Parkway, said the restaurant has participated each year. This year, Zapatista will offer a limited selection of a salad or appetizer, an entrée and a dessert on its prix fixe lunch and dinner menus. Zust said the restaurant takes advantage of the promotion as a way to entice new patrons.

“We do everything in our power to make sure we exceed their dining experience so that we have the ability to capture them as a guest in the future,” he said.

Many participating restaurants use the week as an opportunity to gain return customers by offering upscale menu items at a more affordable price.

The first First Bites Bash, a Feb. 2 kick-off event hosted by celebrity chef Stephanie Izard at Union Station, 210 S. Canal St., previewed Restaurant Week menus from 50 participating eateries. According to Morris, all proceeds from the event went to the Greater Chicago Food Depository, a nonprofit food distribution and training center.

“We’re excited to increase our promotion of the GCFD by including them as the beneficiary for this new event,” Morris said.

In addition to the First Bites Bash, Restaurant Week will feature eight other food-related events and attractions with something available for diners of all ages.

Adult-oriented attractions include Chicago Detours’ Good Times: A Historic Bar Tour, where guests can tour notable bars and venues while hearing stories of the prohibition era; and Uncorked!, a champagne celebration at The Redhead Piano Bar, 16 W. Ontario St., on Feb. 15. For younger Restaurant Week audiences, the Shedd Aquarium will offer a Sustainable Seafood Cooking Class for Kids Feb. 9, where junior chefs have the opportunity to learn how to prepare “ocean-friendly” snacks.

Morris said that Restaurant Week serves as a way to stimulate business during a “need period” for restaurants.

“It tends to be a time where restaurants are typically slower,” Morris said. “It really brings more volume into their restaurants and more customers, and hopefully exposes them for repeat business into the spring and summer.”

For a complete list of participating restaurants, as well as information about pricing, menus and events, visit EatItUpChicago.com.

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